New Cancer Drug May Curb Tumors

Experimental Cancer Drug Didn't Harm Healthy Cells in Preliminary Tests on Mice

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March 4, 2008 -- Scientists report early success in preliminary tests of an experimental cancer drug.

Those tests -- which were conducted in mice, not people -- show that theoral drug harnessed the cancer-fighting power of a gene called p53 without harming healthy cells.

The drug doesn't have a brand name yet. Its developers call it MI-219.

Here's how MI-219 works. In a nutshell, it frees the healthy p53 from the grasp of a protein called MDM2.

The basic idea is that in some cancers, p53 can't curb cancer because it's hindered by MDM2. But when MI-219 is on the scene, MDM2 has trouble latching onto p53. That leaves p53 available to curb cancer.

That might not work in all cancers. In about half of human cancers, the p53 gene is either missing or mutated, note the researchers, who included Shaomeng Wang, PhD, of the University of Michigan.

Wang's team didn't discover the p53 gene. And they're not the first to try their drug strategy.

But Wang and colleagues call MI-219 "an ideal MDM2 inhibitor" because it didn't show toxic side effects in their short-term study.

The study appears in this week's online early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study was funded in part by Ascenta Therapeutics, which has licensed technologies related to MDM2 inhibitors including MI-219. Wang is an Ascenta consultant; several other researchers who worked on the study are Ascenta employees.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 04, 2008

Sources

SOURCES:

Shangary, S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, week of March 3-7, 2008; online early edition.

WebMD Medical News: "Turn On Gene, Turn Off Cancer?"

News release, University of Michigan.

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